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[VIEWPOINT] A new nuclear reactor nucleus

The export of nuclear reactors can serve as a foundation for Korea’s economic future, provided the country takes the right steps going forward.

Dec 30,2009
Korea has won the first nuclear power plant contract in the United Arab Emirates.

Under the deal, Korea will export a $20 billion nuclear power plant, which ranks as the biggest order in the history of the country. Korea became an exporter of nuclear power plants earlier in the month when it signed a deal to build a 5-megawatt research nuclear reactor in Jordan.

Korea is now reaping the benefits of its 50 years in nuclear power research and development. The contract with the U.A.E. overcomes the last remaining challenge of exporting commercial power reactors.

The agreement calls for Korea to build an APR1400 - a 1,400 megawatt light-water reactor that is a standard model here - in Sila, which is located 220 kilometers (137 miles) west of U.A.E.’s capital, Abu Dhabi.

It will be the same type of reactor as the Shingori 3 and 4. By winning the U.A.E. bid, Korea became the fifth nuclear reactor exporter after the United States, France, Russia and Canada. Moreover, the contract is especially significant as Korea came out on top of a fierce competitive pool that included Westinghouse Electric of the United States; Hitachi, Toshiba and Mitsubishi of Japan; Areva of France; Russia’s Rosatom; and Canada’s nuclear power corporation.

The U.A.E. wants a nuclear power plant to prepare for the time when petroleum resources are exhausted. The country reached a conclusion that there is no other alternative if it wants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the depletion of oil sources and the introduction of carbon dioxide emission reduction policies will help lead to the construction of approximately 300 nuclear reactors around the world by 2030. The market is expected to grow to over $1 trillion.

China, which currently has 10 nuclear reactors, needs to build several more every year until 2030 in order to meet rapidly increasing energy demand.

A “nuclear renaissance” is imminent. The international market is dominated by three major axes: a joint venture between Areva and Mitsubishi, a partnership between General Electric and Hitachi, and a collaboration between Toshiba and Westinghouse. Under these circumstances, winning the U.A.E. contract means the international community now recognizes Korea’s nuclear power capacity. Korea hopes to export nuclear reactors to Jordan, China, Turkey, South Africa and India, and the deal with the U.A.E. bodes well for the future.

Once the nuclear power plant is completed in the U.A.E., Korea will not only make money from exporting the plant but also is expected to generate an additional $22 billion in nuclear fuel exports and another $600 million from parts. The project will provide a constant stream of profits throughout the lifetime of the power plant operation, or about 60 years.

In order for the nuclear power industry to become a mainstay of Korea’s economy, we need to keep in mind a few things. The first is that we must ensure the absolute safety of nuclear power plant operations. One of the primary reasons that the U.A.E. chose Korea is because of the country’s stellar track record for safe operations of reactors. If we experience operational problems domestically, Korea will lose the confidence of the international community.

Secondly, we need to display a mature culture in this area in Korea, one where nuclear power plants are welcomed by local residents. If the people living around nuclear power plants are not fully supportive, Korea will not be able to sell reactors abroad.

Thirdly, Korea needs to have a global management strategy to collaborate with developed countries that are advanced in the nuclear industry. Korea’s competitiveness lies in safety, compliance with construction deadlines and relatively low prices for high quality. When we secure cutting-edge technology through ceaseless research and development, we can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with leaders of the field and occupy a considerable share of the ever-growing international market. I hope that the successful nuclear power plant bid in the U.A.E. will become the foundation for Korea’s future economic prosperity.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
*The writer is a professor of political science and diplomacy at Hanyang University.


By Kim Kyung-min



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